Review: Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

ender's game Where do you stand on gossip? Do you like a little tea with your favorite hobby? Have you ever read a book specifically because of the controversy surrounding it?

That pretty much describes my relationship with Ender’s Game. Although I consider myself a step above a casual sci-fi fan, and I’d heard of the book, I’d never actually read it for myself. A few weeks ago, I decided to remedy that situation.

First, some basic information… Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a rare, government-sanctioned third child in a eugenically planned society. At the vulnerable age of six, he earns an honor his older siblings had failed to achieve: placement in Battle School. Battle School is where children are molded into soldiers in the war against “the Buggers,” an insectoid race threatening humanity’s survival. Although whether to enroll is technically Ender’s decision, his potential enlistment is literally the entire reason he was born. Feeling as though he has little real say in the matter, he accepts the posting.  Meanwhile his siblings, sociopathic Peter and Valentine the pacifist, are discontent to sit on the sidelines as history unfolds. They adopt pseudonyms and begin writing commentary to influence political discourse on Earth.

Ender excels at his studies, despite – or perhaps due to – his relative isolation. Communication with his family is quickly reduced to an occasional post from his sister, his classmates feel threatened by his precocity, and his commanders subject him to a series of psychological experiments intended to shape the little boy into a super-soldier. Such pressure threatens his mental stability and contributes to some violent episodes involving other students. However, he proves himself a progeny and is sent to Command School. It is at Command School, surrounded by his heroes and men he’s been raised to emulate, that Ender faces his greatest challenge: Learning the truth is something that’s been molded and shaped just as much as he has.

I really enjoyed this book and certainly found it worthy of its award-winning status, if for nothing else than the technological foresight on display by the author. Card wrote Ender’s Game in 1985 yet managed to predict not only drone technology and widespread use of the internet, but also how the net’s anonymity might be exploited for political gain. I was, however, more than a little disturbed by the ideology the book promotes. The author presents an “the end justifies the means” mentality while still conveniently finding ways to remove his protagonist from responsibility. Every mistake Ender makes is supposedly someone else’s fault. It makes for a convoluted morality and, at least to this reader, dilutes the author’s message.

Now for the controversy… For years, although his sexuality was never expressly stated, a lot of people assumed Ender was gay because of passages such as this one:

“Suddenly, though no one said to be quiet, the laughter stopped and the group fell silent. Ender turned to the door. A boy stood there, tall and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender lips that hinted at refinement. I would follow such beauty, said something inside Ender. I would see as those eyes see.”

And this one:

Alai suddenly kissed Ender on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “Salaam.” Then, red-faced, he turned away and walked to his own bed at the back of the barracks. Ender guessed that the kiss and the word were somehow forbidden. A suppressed religion, perhaps. Or maybe the word had some private and powerful meaning for Alai alone. Whatever it meant to Alai, Ender knew that it was sacred; that he had uncovered himself for Ender, as once Ender’s mother had done, when he was very young, before they put the monitor in his neck, and she had put her hands on his head when she thought he was asleep, and prayed over him. Ender had never spoken of that to anyone, not even to Mother, but had kept it as a memory of holiness, of how his mother loved him when she thought that no one, not even he, could see or hear. That was what Alai had given him; a gift so sacred that even Ender could not be allowed to understand what it meant.

The problem came when Card started making public appearances. When people asked him about Ender’s sexuality, Card promptly lost his shit. A Mormon, Card apparently needed to double-down on just how TOTALLY NOT GAY Ender was by becoming an outspoken homophobe. In posts on his website, he wrote such things as “Just because you give legal sanction to a homosexual couple and call their contract a “marriage” does not make it a marriage. It simply removes marriage as a legitimate word for the real thing,” and “The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally,” before moving on to blame gay marriage for the collapse of society, stating, “Because with marriage finally killed, America will no longer be able to raise up children with any trust in or loyalty to or willingness to sacrifice for that society. So either civilized people will succeed in establishing a government that protects the family; or civilized people will withdraw their allegiance from the government that won’t protect it; or the politically correct barbarians will have complete victory over the family — and, lacking the strong family structure on which civilization depends, our civilization will collapse or fade away.” Then, just in case anyone was somehow still in doubt about his views on the homosexuality, he advocated for insurrection against the government. “How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”

To me, this presents an interesting question. If a story can take on a life of its own, can the same be said for a character? And if Ender can take on a life of his own, might he indeed be gay despite the protests of his right-wing, homophobic creator?

All in all, I found this book incredibly thought-provoking. Even though it’s a few decades old, it still holds up for the most part. I would certainly recommend reading it, but if you don’t feel comfortable putting money in the author’s pocket, remember there are always used copies to be found. Support your local library, kids, not assholes.

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